O'Brien level with famous namesake after Frozen Fire wins Irish Derby
In the absence of the favourite, the winner was always going to be escorted over the line by the phantom of New Approach. But Frozen Fire forged his success here yesterday in the company of an ally every bit as intangible as his missing adversary. He did not simply finish like the wind; he ran with it, too.
In the process he reinforced the hegemony of Aidan O'Brien and his patrons at Coolmore Stud, who were sharing their third consecutive success in the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby – and their sixth in all, bringing O'Brien level with his great predecessor and namesake, Vincent.
As usual, O'Brien modestly distributed the credit among his staff at Ballydoyle, whose contribution could be measured by the fact that Frozen Fire was ridden – just like Soldier Of Fortune last year – by Seamus Heffernan. Cherished for his daily work on the gallops, Heffernan has never been more than understudy to the stable jockey, but here his understated mien cloaked an authentic masterpiece. For the first half of the race, the runners were galloping into the gale that had scattered the cloud high and wide above the sunny plain of Kildare. Heffernan sheltered his mount at the very rear of the field, and waited until turning into the straight before leaving their slipstream. Those ridden towards the van were already playing their hand, but their collective exhaustion told in dramatic fashion as they began barging each other across the track. Frozen Fire, in contrast, was able to run them down with a fresh, billowing stride. The visual effect, at least, was such that it was easy to imagine him giving even New Approach a run for his money.
The champion had been scratched in the morning, still troubled by some indeterminate problem, and thereafter it was going to take something special to undermine the memory of his performance at Epsom. The warm favourite, after all, was the colt who got nearest to him there, Tartan Bearer.
Frozen Fire, in contrast, never landed a blow that day, when ridden by Mick Kinane, but he is by no means the only horse to have lost his bearings on Tattenham Hill. And he had previously forced Tartan Bearer to a photo in the Dante Stakes at York, just tiring on his first start of the season.
"In fairness, when he came in Mick said that this was a very good horse and that we should ignore the run," O'Brien said. "It just got a bit messy in the middle of the race and he was one of those that got chopped back. I couldn't be happier for Seamus. It couldn't happen to a better fellow. He knows the horses inside out, and every year, he's a better rider."
Having instead favoured Alessandro Volta, Johnny Murtagh shadowed the pacemakers and took over on the home turn, followed by Curtain Call and Tartan Bearer. But the attrition soon told, Alessandro Volta rolling into the former and pushing the latter wide – leaving Frozen Fire to circle the lot of them and beat Casual Conquest two lengths. Sir Michael Stoute, trainer of Tartan Bearer, was vexed to see his colt "carried halfway across the track". All in all it was not much of a day for his jockey, Ryan Moore, who had earlier been fined €1,000 after an altercation with security staff when trying to gain access to the track.
Instead it was O'Brien who fortified the empire of John Magnier and his partners. True, Soldier Of Fortune had earlier gone down narrowly to the Mick Channon-trained Youmzain in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud, the pair clear of Doctor Dino. But O'Brien had already furnished them with a 10th success in 11 runnings of the big juvenile race on the card, the One 51 Railway Stakes. The Ballydoyle carousel is already into its next, inexorable circuit. Mastercraftsman, winner of a maiden here in May, counted among his victims Bolger's colt, Intense Focus, who had finished second in the Coventry Stakes. Having made an overt priority of his home Classics this season, Bolger has been poorly rewarded for his patriotism. First the ground was too firm for New Approach in the Guineas here; and next the carpet was taken from under his feet. At least Bolger can congratulate himself for having already observed the lessons of this setback, with that extempore decision to run at Epsom. When a thoroughbred is fit and sound, you take the bird in the hand every time.
Bolger was unable to specify the source of the colt's discomfort. The initial suspicion was of a foot bruise, but a muscular problem now seems more likely. "The horse is still not sound, and it may not be his foot," he admitted. "We will take him for scans and x-rays tomorrow, and will know more after that."
As he observed, it can take "10 days or 10 weeks" to soothe a muscle problem. At least he managed to retain that grim pride of his. "It could still be a bruise, but I can categorically say it's not a stone bruise," he said. "We don't have any stones."
But all that scrupulous horsemanship was once absorbed by O'Brien himself, during his days as assistant at Coolcullen. After six winners at Royal Ascot, he even has Magnier "pinching himself". The Coolmore boss reserved sporting commiserations for the connections of New Approach. "We wish the horse a speedy recovery," he said. "And hope for some fun in the days ahead."
The weathervane had certainly swung that way.
* Chris McGrath selected Frozen Fire in Saturday's preview as an alternative to the subsequently withdrawn New Approach.
Nap: Jojesse(Musselburgh 7.25)
NB: Mintoe (Musselburgh 7.55)
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